Reading in a Gold mine
Some years ago I read through Stephen Charnock’s rather large book “Existence and Attributes of God”. It's an intimidating book, but I was going to be preaching on the attributes of God and thought if I was ever going to read this, now was the time. So I aimed to read 10 pages a day for 5 days in the week, and it took about 7 months—those were 7 months well spent!
Jerry Bridges speaks of this as being one of the most influential books he has read. I would have to agree. There have been times reading this when I was struck by my sinfulness, and the myriad of ways I fail. But the overwhelming impression was this: God is utterly glorious—I can’t wait to go to Heaven and be in the presence of this most wondrous being.
It appeared to affect Charnock in that way to an even greater degree. William Symington writes in the introduction:
"The intense interest which he was observed to take in the subjects of which he treated, was regarded as an indication that he was nearly approaching that state in which he was to be 'filled with all the fulness of God'. Not unfrequently was he heard to give utterance to a longing desire for that region for which he gave evidence of being so well prepared. These circumstances were, naturally enough, looked upon as proofs that his mighty mind, though yet on earth, had begun to 'put off its mortality' and was fast ripening for the paradise of God."
To be honest reading Charnock wasn't easy--some bits were like chewing concrete! But there is much gold buried in the concrete. The digging is worth it. And 10 pages (or 5 pages) is a reasonable way to plough through it. I'd like to read it again, but more slowly, and dwell on certain passages more.
But to whet your appetite here are a few of my favourite quotes (the first being perhaps my all-time favourite—the last line of it giving a rule of thumb to add to the end of every insight you have about God!)
"Whatever God is, he is infinitely so: he is infinite Wisdom, infinite Goodness, infinite Knowledge, infinite Power, infinite Spirit; infinitely distant from the weakness of creatures, infinitely mounted above the excellencies of creatures: as easy to be known that he is, as impossible to be comprehended what he is. Conceive of him as excellent, without any imperfection; a Spirit without parts; great without quantity; perfect without quality; everywhere without place: powerful without members; understanding without ignorance; wise without reasoning; light without darkness; infinitely more excelling the beauty of all creatures, than the light in the sun, pure and unviolated, exceeds the splendor of the sun dispersed and divided through a cloudy and misty air: and when you have risen to the highest, conceive him yet infinitely above all you can conceive of spirit, and acknowledge the infirmity of your own minds. And whatsoever conception comes into your minds, say, 'This is not God; God is more than this.'" - p200
The counsels of a boundless being are not to be scanned by the brain of a silly worm, that hath breathed but a few minutes in the world. Since eternity cannot be comprehended in time, it is not to be judged by a creature of time. - p295
The strongest man is but compacted dust - p303
"While the gardener commands his servant to shake the tree, he intends to fasten its roots, and settle it firmer in its place; and is this an ill-will to the plant?" - v2p313
“Thus did the wisdom of God shine forth in restoring us by methods seemingly repugnant to the end he aimed at, and above the suspicion of a subtle devil, whom he intended to baffle. Could he imagine that we should be healed by stripes, quickened by death, purified by blood, crowned by a cross, advanced to the highest honour by the lowest humility, comforted by sorrows, glorified by disgrace, absolved by condemnation, and made rich by poverty?” – p569
"We see the gardener pulling up some delightful flowers by the roots, digging up the earth, overwhelming it with dung; and ignorant person would imagine him wild, out of his wits, and charge him with spoiling his garden: but when the spring is arrived, the spectator will acknowledge his skill in his former operations." - p606
"There is as little proportion between the holiness of the Divine Majesty, and that of the most righteous creature, as there is between a nearness of a person that stands upon a mountain, to the sun, and of him that beholds him in a vale; one is nearer than the other, but it is an advantage not to be boasted of, in regard of the vast distance that is between the sun and the elevated spectator." - v2p193
As I read over these quotes again--I want to encourage you to read hard books. Don't settle for what you're reading now--set your sights on a book above that, and read something packed with gold. Yes, you will have to mine it, but as I look back over these quotes and the pages and pages of others I underlined, I find not only is my soul refreshed, but that these have permeated my thiinking more than I realised in the 14 years since I read Charnock. I thank God for this gold mine--I thinkI'll go digging in it again.